Loving lichen

Loving Lichen


In pristine places across the northern hemisphere like here at Camp, on a drab day, when the light is low, tufting out of  trunks and twigs, riding on the rocks, and poking out where nothing else will grow are wads and wisps of wolf moss. Their neon greens and yellows are the bling of the forest and often the only bit of bright to remind that the world is not black and white or gray.


Fiber artists for millennia have pulled pigments from it for their wares.  There are many articles on how to capture the dye on the web. I also speculate they have value as model railroad shrubbery.


Pretty as it is, it is not entirely benign. Hunters on two continents keep wolf moss for a poison it contains.


The Achomawi, a branch of the local Pit River tribes knew of this quality and dipped their arrowheads in an extract to add a little venom to the quiver.


In Europe, people would concoct a poison for wolves and foxes mixing it with glass and meat to rid them of their menace. The biologist’s name for wolf moss is a testament to that, Letheria vulpina, lethal to foxes.


That biologist  may refer to it as wolf moss but begrudgingly as the "moss" portion of that name is not supported by the facts. Wolf moss is a lichen and not a moss at all.  But it got it’s name long before life was categorized by genus and species and wolf lichen is not likely to catch on.


So, what is a lichen?


We look at wolf moss and see a single thing like an orchid or a worm but a lichen is two different things, a fungus and an algae, so bound with one another that they can not be taken apart or separated. I like to think of the fungus as the house, the structure that supports and gives shape and the algae as the party providing food and color.

I envy how they live together in such perfect harmony.